By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
This is also a visceral production. One can almost smell the urine that's been sitting around the house for days, in jars, and the stench of the leeched "tokens" - swellings on the legs and groin - that are the most evident symptom of the plague's onset. This kind of texture can't be rushed. It takes time both to create and to receive it. Scene transitions are punctuated by John Zalewski's sound effects - the tearing of a garment, the galloping of horses - which supplement motifs from the play and are employed with perfect discretion.
Curiously, Wallace speaks of having used L.A. as the lightning rod for her play. She tells, in a program note, how she was reading Daniel DeFoe's Journal of the Plague Year when the 1992 riots broke out in Los Angeles, how she made an instant connection between 17th-century London and contemporary L.A., as though the riot and the plague were "the same event . . . a time when rich and poor get thrown together."
This observation is quite lyrical, but not altogether true. I don't, for example, recall any Bel Air socialites being forced to spend the night with Bell Gardens rappers because of the curfew. The rich and the poor thrown together? I don't think so.
Though Wallace traps the wealthy Snelgraves in a cell with their impoverished visitors, when the death chimes started to toll in the summer of 1665, the rich moved posthaste out of London to safety, led by the president of the College of Physicians (so much for social services) and followed shortly thereafter by King Charles II himself. That left a few brave apothecaries and doctors to care for the stricken and the vulnerable.
All this comes through in Wallace's play, which fascinates not just at the level of morbid curiosity. The drama speaks of the political fallout from any great civic trauma - from an AIDS epidemic, say, or from some long-imagined, devastating "Big One." This, of course, counts as a testament to the power of her poetry.